From puzzling lumps and bumps to bewildering bodily reactions, medical case reports provide unique insight into how the human body functions and how doctors solve medical mysteries.
They also bring up questions you never thought you’d ask. For example, why did a man lose his sense of smell after being bitten by a snake? And what are the effects of sniffing computer cleaner for years?
Ghost pepper leads to torn esophagus
Ghost peppers are among the hottest chili peppers in the world, coming in at more than 1 million Scoville units, which experts use to measure the “heat” of peppers. (For comparison, jalapeños measure about 5,000 Scoville units.)
A 47-year-old man in California felt the full fiery force of the ghost pepper after eating a hamburger topped with a ghost pepper puree, according to a case report published online in September in The Journal of Emergency Medicine.
After eating the pepper, the man started vomiting and couldn’t stop. His vomiting was so violent that it tore a hole in his esophagus — a condition that, if left untreated, is almost always fatal.
The man spent 23 days in the hospital, and was later sent home with a feeding tube, along with little desire to try another ghost pepper in the future.
Snakebite leads to lost sense of smell
After being bitten by a venomous snake, a man in Australia lost his sense of smell for more than a year.
The 30-year-old man initially went to the hospital after being bitten by the snake, which was a mulga snake, but he was not given anti-venom because the doctors did not think his symptoms were severe enough to need the medicine, according to a report of his case, published in February in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience.
But several days after the man was bitten, he noticed his sense of smell starting to deteriorate, and within weeks, he lost the ability to smell completely.
The doctors who treated the man said that although bites from the mulga snake rarely affect the nervous system, bites from other types of snakes have been shown to affect a person’s sense of smell.
There are many reasons to avoid bringing your smartphone into your bedroom, including temporary “blindness.”
Two unrelated women in the United Kingdom told doctors that they had trouble seeing out of one eye when they were in bed at night. But these vision problems occurred only after the women had looked at their smartphones for several minutes, while lying on their sides, according to the report, published in June in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The doctors wrote in their report that they thought the problem resulted when the women viewed their smartphones with just one eye while lying down and the other eye was blocked by their pillow. In this situation, the eye looking at the smartphone becomes adapted to the light, and the eye blocked by the pillow becomes adapted to the dark. When the smartphone is turned off, the light-adjusted eye is perceived to be “blind” until it adjusts to the dark.
Europe reports first death from recluse-spider bite
A woman in Italy died shortly after being bitten by a Mediterranean recluse spider, a relative of the notorious brown recluse spider found in the United States.
The death was the first reported due to a bite from this type of spider, according to the report, published in August in the journal Case Reports in Emergency Medicine.
The spider’s venom is toxic to human red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. Without enough red blood cells, the organs in the body don’t get enough oxygen.
Anti-venom for recluse-spider bites isn’t available in Italy (or the United States), so the only way doctors could try to save the woman was through supportive care. In other words, the doctors tried to treat her symptoms and keep her alive until the body rid itself of the venom. However, the woman died about 12 hours after being admitted to the hospital, according to the report.